We’ve become mighty comfortable with the emperor giving us the power to be the church. Now, we do church and think and behave in ways that depend on the emperor’s power for forcing the rest of society to act like the church. In some ways, Flavius Valerius Constantinus is still on the throne of the church; and, we trust him to grant us our protection; we lobby him to force the rest of society to act as Christians (or face legal and, sometimes, brutal consequences); and we are thankful that he lets us constitute and gather as a special rights group of citizens of the empire.
The church has given up the only power for leverage and change it has at its disposal, that is the cross, and has exchanged it for a share in the power of the emperor to bring about the moral, political, and social vision we deem Christian or politically correct (aka a left or right leaning political vision) . . . by law and, if need be, by force. We are willfully earthly, doing what many seek, exchanging one power (theirs) simply for another power (ours)–and the State to enforce our power. [Yea, like the Empire will be our friends. Not.] The church has given up on the only means of displaying the power of the cross, that is, through the gathering of the saints in fellowships, which has to work hard at unity (because it is an alien unity, wholly different than anything else known in the realms of humankind), whose congregants are neither female or male, slave or free, Jew or Gentile.
The church (again, the local church) has ceased to be a wholly other kind of social body with a wholly other power and a wholly other way of leverage that changes and transforms society (and our neighborhoods); and, a reliance on something wholly other to see God’s kingdom impact social relationships and structures. We prefer Constantine’s power rather than our call to be people crucified with Christ, humbly meeting together, sharing a common meal, and welcoming all who would come and seek Messiah Jesus. We are no longer wholly other.
We must find a better, more wholly different way. We, the church, need to be wholly different.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.